Black Panthers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared same goals, former member says at annual Edmonds Community College King lecture

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Former Black Panther Emory Douglas spoke at the annual Edmonds Community College Martin Luther King Jr. lecture Thursday at the Black Box Theatre. (Photo by David Pan)
Former Black Panther Emory Douglas spoke at the annual Edmonds Community College Martin Luther King Jr. lecture Thursday at the Black Box Theatre. (Photo by David Pan)

The Black Panther Party is viewed by many as one of the most controversial movements of the 20th century.

Originally called the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, the organization initially was known for its armed citizen patrols and its opposition to police brutality.

It might come as a surprise to some people that the work of the party actually aligned with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his teachings, according to a former member.

Emory Douglas, the Black Panther newspaper’s art director and later the party’s Minister of Culture, spoke of the commonalities between the Black Panther Party and Dr. King at Edmonds Community College’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. lecture Thursday afternoon at the college’s Black Box Theatre.

Dr. King spoke about inclusion with regards to equality, mutual respect and fairness, Douglas said.

“These are concepts that I do make an effort to visually express in my art work,” Douglas said.

One of the popular slogans of the Black Panthers was “All Power to the People” and Douglas felt this aligned with Dr. King’s philosophy.

Both Dr. King and the Black Panthers were opposed to the Vietnam War and both were targeted by the U.S. government in an attempt to be discredited, Douglas said.

Dr. King’s message wasn’t limited in scope to African Americans but appealed to different groups. The Black Panthers also emphasized building alliances with others, such as the American Indian movement, Latinos, progressive labor, Puerto Ricans and Students for Democratic Society.

Douglas detailed many of the Black Panthers’ social programs, which again were aligned with Dr. King’s teachings.

The Black Panthers offered free health clinics, free food/breakfast programs, senior citizen programs, child development centers and even accredited schools. The Black Panthers actually started up an ambulance service.

“The free breakfast program was feeding more children than the U.S. government,” he said.

Douglas describes these programs as “turning things upside down” and ultimately being about freedom.

His art, Douglas said, reflected the social issues of the time. Most of the members of the movement were from 16- to 20-years-old. While they may have been from different walks of life and come from different backgrounds, they had “come together to work for a common cause.”

The Black Panthers, Douglas said, were involved in the human rights struggle and were about serving the community.

Emory Douglas’ lecture will be broadcast on Edmonds Community College as part of the college’s Brown Bag Lecture Series on Comcast (channel 21/26) and on the web at http://vimeo.com/channels/144445

– Douglas was scheduled to speak later Thursday night, also at the Black Box Theatre, but Edmonds Community College President Jean Hernandez decided to cancel the evening program. “There were a lot of different things,” Hernandez said. “There was no single reason (for the cancellation). There were a lot of concerns.”

Hernandez said that recent events, in Paris and even locally with a recent report of man with a gun on the campus of a school in Shoreline, influenced her decision. There were concerns of people protesting. Hernandez added that the audience at the afternoon (12:30 p.m.) program was largely composed of college students, while the audience for the evening program would have been people from the community at large. “I support what he’s doing,” Hernandez said of Douglas.

– By David Pan

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